Another Dagger For Tape?

While it remains premature to say the demise of tape as an archiving medium has arrived, its use is significantly declining, thanks to advances in software, significant increases in disk capacity and overall lower costs-per-gigabyte of storage.

Barely a week goes by without some significant development in data-protection technology to validate that trend, ranging from the release of new products with significant technical advances to some major acquisitions and partnerships.

Just since VARBusiness published its Annual Guide To Disaster Recovery and Backup less than two months ago, which acknowledged that data protection has become a key priority among all customer sets, the landscape has changed. In recent weeks, Symantec released a major new version of its flagship Backup Exec product with expanded support for continuous data protection, EMC updated its Legato Networker data-replication software, and a slew of other vendors have added new capabilities such as Yosemite support for multi-OS. On the business side, some of the most successful IPOs in the IT world have come from companies focused on data protection, notably CommVault and Riverbed. And Network Appliance this month announced its intent to acquire Topio, a key supplier of CDP appliances, a move echoed by EMC's acquisition of CDP appliance vendor Kaysha.

In the backdrop of all these developments, EMC at the beginning of this month announced plans to plunk down $165 million to acquire Avamar, perhaps one of the hottest emerging suppliers of data-protection software. In so doing, EMC has increased awareness to a rapidly growing technique of backing up data, particularly from remote to host locations. The technique is commonly referred to as data reduction or data de-duplication. Simply put, data reduction uses data compression and caching so that when data is replicated from one server or storage array to another, only data that has changed is backed up. It should be noted that data reduction is not an alternative to CDP, which in real-time replicates changes on PCs and/or servers. Rather, data reduction is intended for archival purposes and has become more critical for customers adopting data-retention policies.

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"If you want the most granular recovery-point objectives, meaning I don't want to lose a single I/O, RecoverPoint [with CDP] really allows you to do that," says Mark Sorenson, vice president of EMC information management software.

New data-retention requirements pose significant ramifications from a capacity point of view, particularly for organizations that produce redundant copies of their backups. For example, an organization that maintains a terabyte of data that wants to keep 10 weeks of backups on-site and monthly backups off-site for seven years would require at least 10 TB of excess capacity on-site and 84 TB off-site (12 per year), says Bill Andrews, CEO of ExaGrid, which offers software that employs data-reduction technology. "That's just ridiculous," Andrews says. Using data reduction, a customer would need less than a terabyte on-site for the 10 weeks of online backup and 2.2 TB off-site, he says.

ExaGrid is among several vendors, including Data Domain, Diligent, FalconStor and Quantum, that offer or are set to release data-protection technology that employs similar de-duplication techniques.

NEXT: Vendors playing the field.

"Sometimes the multiples can be huge," says Allan Krans, an analyst with Technology Business Research, referring to the percentage of backup-time reduction using de-duplication. "Avamar is on top of that market," he adds, noting that the company has already received several patents for its file system and de-duplication techniques.

The other key player in this field is Symantec, which offers a product called PureDisk based on technology from Data Center Technologies (DCT), which Symantec acquired last year. But Symantec so far has not put a whole lot of marketing muscle behind its PureDisk capability. Michael Parker, senior marketing manager for the company's flagship Backup Exec, doesn't see a mass migration away from tape any time soon. "Ninety-five of our installed base is on tape, and that's not disappearing tomorrow," Parker says.

The acquisition of Avamar is important to EMC, Krans says, because it further allows the company to go to market with solutions that facilitate longer-term backup and archival of data to disk, while reducing the amount of data on tape.

"Tape will always have a place in most companies' backup infrastructures, but I think you will see it whittle down," he says. "The lowest priority data will still reside on tape but companies will keep as much data as is financially feasible on disk."

While EMC just released a new version of its Networker software, observers argue that the Legato product line has lost ground to others including Symantec's NetBackup, where the PureDisk technology is an option. EMC officials acknowledge traditional methods of backup are outdated. "Clearly, backup today and traditional backup methodologies are being strained to the limits in terms of adequately protecting information," EMC's Sorenson says.

One of the largest suppliers of tape drives, Quantum, is even hedging its bets. ADIC, which Quantum recently acquired, snatched a company with data-reduction technology called RockSoft. Quantum is getting set to release a product based on that technology.

Among those who have had success selling Avamar's solutions is Mosaic Technology, Salem, N.H., which specializes in data-protection solutions.

"The beauty of Avamar is it chops your data down before you begin to back up, at the source," says Don Basler, Mosaic's vice president of marketing.

That's allowed Rutland Regional Medical Center in Rutland, Vt., to eliminate its reliance on tape backups.. "Now [data] is centralized and it's much more manageable," he says.

Basler also resells Data Domain, an independent supplier of data-reduction technology. Data Domain argues it has three times the revenue that Avamar and, for that matter, Symantec had.

"We probably had more sales than all of them combined," says Brian Biles, a co-founder of Data Domain, who serves as vice president of product development.

Look for more competition and lots of deals in 2007. When asked about his prospects, Biles says, "If the stars align, you never know what may happen."